What’s this I hear about incentive travel to Cuba?
Americans can now visit Cuba so long as the trip falls within one of 12 authorized purposes, including visits to close relatives, academic programs for which students receive credits, professional research, journalistic or religious activities, and participation in public performances or sports competitions.
Ordinary tourism currently remains off limits. However, the list of allowed exceptions is expanding, and everyone anticipates a future acceptance for tourism.
Wait, so how do we get an incentive trip?
“People-to-people trips” are educational programs that fall into one of the 12 categories of allowed travel. They’re one of the most popular ways to go to Cuba because anybody can join a trip and your itinerary is worked out for you.
Alright, I can live with that. Let’s go!
Well, not so fast – there are a couple of things we need to talk through. There are few incentive-quality hotel brands currently in Cuba. Some familiar brands include Melia, Iberostar, and Paradisus, but none in the 5-star category. Air travel is more limited from the US as seats must be booked through third-party charter companies, with recommendations to check-in 4 hours before departure. There are also concerns with vendor relationships and available transportation (very limited for quality vehicles) that could make planning a trip challenging. One option we recommend is cruising, which can offer more reliable accommodations and travel from Miami, eliminating the need to fly directly into Cuba.
Another thing to keep in mind – American citizens are required to take closed loop trips, which means they have to start and end in the US. For cruises, that means you have to go in/out of Miami. Currently, the Carnival Fathom is the only ship that is available with such itinerary, and you will pay a premium. Cruises like MSC that go out of Costa Rica cannot be considered for programs with US citizens. Other cruise lines are working on developing itineraries for Cuba (Silversea, Oceania, Royal Caribbean), but none have officially been announced.
What’s on the itinerary?
Be forewarned – this is not your traditional golf, spa, and beach destination. When you participate in a people-to-people program, you are required to help the economy of Cuba. This could include activities such as planting gardens or building irrigation channels. However, most of the itinerary is based on education, including many city sightseeing tours. Between cities, guests can enjoy relaxing on-board activities on the floating hotel like dancing lessons, an authentic Cuban cocktail class or simply unwinding by the pool.
Ah! What else do I need to know?
- Making phone calls can be expensive – so far, Verizon is the only carrier that allows its users to make voice calls – at $2.99 per minute
- ATMs are few and far between, and many establishments do not have the means to process credit card payments
- British pound / euro gets a better exchange rate than the US dollar
- Homes of Cuban families are as popular to eat at as restaurants
- What about those famous Cuban cigars? Americans are allowed to bring back up to $100 worth of cigars
What does this mean for my meeting or incentive trip to Cuba?
Cuba might be an interesting destination for the right group, but expectations need to be set. It is certainly “hot” right now with lots of press, making it a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience incentive participants might go the extra mile to earn. A couple of questions to ask yourself before planning incentive travel to Cuba:
- Does my group want to be immersed in cultural experiences?
- Are CSR and social impact programs important to my attendees?
- Does my group have high expectations of accommodations, or are preferences more modest?
- Would extensive wait times at the airport impact the reward experience (if an incentive)?
- Do I have the flexibility to consider a 7-night trip (for Carnival Fathom itinerary)?
- Does my group appreciate an organized itinerary, or do they prefer lots of leisure time?
As time goes on, many of these restrictions should lessen – definitely in the next 2 years. We will have to stay on top of this new destination; it is certainly intriguing!
See how Brightspot creates unforgettable incentive trips on our Incentive Travel page!